Thanksgiving, for me, has never been a huge holiday. Growing up we didn’t have a big tradition, and I’d often end up at a friend’s house for the holiday. At my job at home, you either work Thanksgiving or Christmas, and I always opt for Thanksgiving, so it’s not like we can typically travel anywhere either.
Long before we’d even arrived in Romania, our friend Cath announced her plan to come visit us there for Thanksgiving and to make sure we had a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, complete with turkey. We, of course, do not eat turkey, but details like that don’t deter Cath. She was sure that we’d be able to find willing omnivorous bellies. She was so determined to have turkey that she was planning on throwing a frozen one into her luggage. I asked a Romanian colleague of mine if one could get a turkey in Romania, and she replied, “Of course! You can get everything in Romania!” I have learned that this is not entirely true (case in point: cilantro) but didn’t think a turkey would be much trouble. Besides, I was only half sure that Cath would even make it here.
Of course, Cath is not one to back away from her promises and she arrived here the Monday before Thanksgiving on one of the last few planes before Lufthansa was hobbled by its pilots’ strike. Our mission was now to find a turkey. Rob and Dana had said they would find the turkey, but they were unsuccessful in their attempt. Remember, these are the people who LIVE here and are Romanian and they couldn’t find a turkey.
On Tuesday afternoon after dropping off Cath and her son at their flat, Eric and I walked past a butcher shop and decided to go in to see if they had a turkey. First, I looked up the Romanian word for turkey on my phone. Armed with the knowledge, we walked into the store, went up to the woman behind the counter and asked “Curcan?” She replied “Congealada, curcan congealada?” (Congealed turkey? I wondered) and pointed us to a case with frozen turkey parts on the familiar yellow styrofoam trays, wrapped in plastic. “No, no” I said. Now, I suppose I could have looked up the word for whole turkey, but this didn’t occur to me. What DID occur to me was to pantomime a large beach ball with my hands, then flap my elbows like a chicken and bend my knees while chanting “Curcan! Curcan!” The shopkeeper’s lips curled slightly upwards, which I think is Romanian for pointing and laughing out loud, and said “Intrega?”and pointed to a whole chicken in the next case. “Da!” I replied, “Curcan intrega!” At this point she rattled off about two minutes of solid Romanian during which the only word that made any sense was “Kaufland,” the name of the grocery store down the block. I wasn’t sure if she was telling us that they had them there, or if she was saying that I should head down and do my turkey dance for her colleagues because they’d think it was funny as hell.
Later that afternoon, we all decided to go to a large bar/bowling alley/arcade at the mall where the kids
were out of our hair could play and we could have a beverage. We stopped first at the grocery store there, in search of a turkey, thinking that if they had one available then we knew and could come pick it up the next day.
We now knew how to ask for “curcan intrega,” and thus empowered, walked into the meat section. At the first butcher area, we asked the man behind the counter, “curcan?” He shook his head “no” and pointed us to an area with refrigerated and frozen bins. We walked over there and saw familiar cut pieces of turkey in styrofoam trays and wrapped in plastic. “Too bad,” I thought to myself. “I guess there’s no whole turkey in Romania.” Cath, however, is a dedicated omnivore and has more knowledge about the ways of gastronomic ornithology. “Wait,” she remarked, “those are FRESH turkey pieces. That means that SOMEWHERE in the back is a whole turkey.”
We walked to another worker, this one in the fish section. “Curcan intrega?” We asked. She gave us a look of horror and initially shook her head as if we had asked to buy a whole cow. Then she paused and strode off purposefully, walked over to a colleague and had a conversation that clearly went something like “Those crazy foreigners want to buy a whole turkey.” The colleague came over and asked me something in Romanian I didn’t understand. I pulled out my phone and had her type it into google translate. “Did you order a turkey?” The screen read. “No” I said, thinking again that our quest had come to a fruitless (or birdless, I suppose) end. She turned on the spot and walked off, waving at us to indicate that we should wait. In no less than two minutes she returned with a whole fresh turkey, shrink wrapped in plastic, with a price sticker on it. Cath looked at me and pronounced, “We MUST buy this turkey now, as this will never happen again.”